Saturday, February 4, 2012

February 4, 1862 - The Steamer Pensacola hits a Florida Reef

USS Pensacola
One of the major Florida-built warships of the Civil War almost met its fate 150 years ago today.

The USS Pensacola, a 130.5 foot long screw steamer, was built at the Pensacola Navy Yard where it was launched on August 15, 1859. It was towed to the Washington Navy Yard in December of that year for the installation of its machinery and then commissioned for service in the war on September 16, 1861. The ship mounded one massive XI inch Dalghren and 16 IX inch Dalghren guns.

Carysfort Reef
The Lighthouse was there at the time of the USS Pensacola accident.
Ordered to the Gulf of Mexico, the Pensacola steamed out of Alexandria, Virginia, on January 11, 1862. On February 4th, 150 years ago today, the ship collided with the Carysfort Reef.

Located about six nautival miles east of Key Largo, the reef takes its name from the British ship HMS Carysfort, which ran aground there in 1770.

The following was quoted from a private letter by the Baltimore Sun on February 26, 1862, p. 2:

On February 4, at a quarter past 12 o'clock A.M., or ship struck upon Lead Barry Reef, on the coast of Florida, and here we are, with the wreckers all around us. We have taken out fourteen of our large guns, and all of the shot, shell, chains, anchors, &c., lightening her about 200 tons. If fair weather continues, I think we will float by noon tomorrow. Should a second storm stet in, we will all go to the bottom.

Carysfort Reef Light
This location is 120 miles from Key West, 12 miles from Carey's Foot Reef [i.e. Carysfort Reef] light, in sight of Elliot's Key. We are talking of sending a small boat to Key West for assistance. The wind is raising and all are on the lookout, and hoping for the best. - Private letter in Baltimore Sun, February 26, 1862

The effort to float the Pensacola was successful and the ship finally reached Key West on February 11, 1862. She suffered only minor damage to her machinery.

One of the most famous warships of the war, the Pensacola went on to run the passage between Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip below New Orleans on April 24, 1862. After the war the Pensacola steamed entirely around the world and surprisingly remained in active use by the U.S. Navy until December of 1911.  She was intentionally sunk by the Navy off San Francisco Bay, California, the following year.

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